After a few months of watching The Middle, I think I've picked up its basic form: It takes a piece of shared American culture. It shows a more realistic, mixed positive and negative aspect of it. And in the end, Frankie Heck and the rest realize that though that tradition may be silly and painful, it serves a purpose in their lives and isn't all that bad.
I like this form. It has a certain intelligent, anthropological basis. It implicitly acknowledges that the traditions themselves don't necessarily do what they say they'll do but that they still serve important societal functions. There's also no shortage of decent comedy to be mined out of straightforward examinations of sacred cows, which is important for a sitcom. But, at a certain point, it yields diminishing returns. We get what's going to happen. While there may be some comfort in a conventional form, The Middle is already in the conventional family sitcom form. But since comedy is based partially on surprise, I'd like to see The Middle play with the form a little. It doesn't need to be “Hush” exactly, but an episode where Frankie examines a holiday and decides that the whole thing really is an utter waste of time, space, and money would be a marvelous change of pace.
Obviously, such was not the case tonight, in The Mother's Day Episode. Everything unfolds pretty much as you'd expect. Mike doesn't remember Mother's Day until it's almost too late, then hatches a scheme with the kids to give Frankie the day to herself. Everyone likes the idea until Frankie spends the day doing stupid errands and the whole family has a blast without her. This is all good stuff, about as funny as The Middle gets, although Frankie's wasted chore day is a little too obvious.
Then it grinds down to a halt, when Mike takes Frankie, the family, and Brick's new, annoying friend back to the fair at Brown County and everything goes wrong. Sue gets distracted, Axl is obsessed with text messages, and Brick's friend is a real pain. Frankie gets mad; Mike gets mad back; there's a Ferris Wheel, which, by The Laws of All Sitcoms, must get stuck; and in the end, Frankie gets the Mother's Day evening she wants.
I think there is a permanent struggle with the concept of motherhood in our society, with a tension between identification with the children and maintenance of individuality. It's a fruitful tension, with plenty of films or books or TV shows that include an aspect of it. The Middle sees that tension, waves hello, and skates right on by tonight. As a result, it takes a good premise and a wonderful first half of the episode and largely squanders it.
- “Put on your sad face. Yeah, like that!”
- “About a year…”
- “Yeah, well, that ship has sailed. Now we got three days to slap something together that doesn't suck.”
- Brick references the menopause book he read on the plane, a nice little continuity gag.
- “I'm uncomfortable with our height difference.” “I disagree, but actually…”
- “It was crowded because there were so many moms there.”
- “I've been all over this place, from the candle shop all the way to the other candle shop—no bars!”
- “No guilt. That must be nice.” “It really is.”
- The title of this episode indicates that there was a Mother's Day I in the first season. How was that one?